EU Connect 2019, Our host city: Amsterdam


When we consider the Netherlands and its capital city, Amsterdam, certain stereotypical things come to mind such as windmills, tulips, clogs, that boy that stuck his finger in a dyke and, in my case a mouse. Not just any mouse, but the mouse in the windmill in old Amsterdam. I only have to let the lyric “I saw a mouse” wander briefly through my brain and I treat myself to a 24-hour earworm of this overly saccharine song.

By European standards, Amsterdam is something of a spring chicken. Whilst the Romans did pass briefly through the area, were the people of Amsterdam to ask themselves – in true Monty Python style – “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, they could answer truthfully, not much. The Romans seemed to be interested in much less challenging landscapes than the land that Amsterdam resides on. So, Amsterdam was left undeveloped until the 1200s when some smart people built a dam over the River Amstel and set up a fishing community. The people ignored farming as an industry, which was more usual at the time, and focussed on maritime enterprises. Trade flourished, and by the late 1400s, the majority of the ships sailing to and from the Baltic Sea were based in Amsterdam. 

Amsterdam’s population swelled after 1345 due to the “miracle of Amsterdam”, when many pilgrims came to visit the city and stayed. In 1380, the canals of the present-day medieval centre were dug.

It is worth noting that the progressive and free feeling of Amsterdam was born early in its history. It was unencumbered by religious feudalism and the people were known for their individualism and making no distinction between classes. They didn’t completely escape religious strife; moving forward a couple of centuries, Amsterdam saw itself struggling between the Calvinists and the Catholic Church. By 1579, the seven northern provinces, which included Amsterdam, declared themselves independent. They were led by William of Orange, who was also known as William the Silent as he refused to enter into religious debate. William of Orange is considered the founder of the Netherlands.

As Amsterdam moved into the 1600s, it was enjoying a golden age, where the Dutch had control of the seas and there was much progress in trade. Amsterdam is home to the oldest stock exchange in the world, in the modern sense of how we understand stock exchange to mean the trading of securities. In 1602, not long after the establishment of the Dutch East India Company, equities began trading on a regular basis as a secondary market to trade its shares. 

A more unusual commodity that began to be traded around this time was tulips. Tulips had been successfully propagated by Carolus Clusius, the director of one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, who had found that the cross-breeding and growing of tulips was well suited to the climate of the Netherlands. One of the oddest boom-bust frenzies in trading history happened between 1636 and 1637. The mania for tulip bulbs was unprecedented, with bulbs being traded for more than the price of a house in Amsterdam. Of course, it could not last and the market crashed – with many rich and not rich losing everything.

The Dutch travelled and set up colonies across the globe although with mixed success, infamously losing the New Netherland in the North East of the USA to the British in 1664. They got their own back, though; with the help of Austria, Spain and Brandenberg, William III of Orange invaded England and, along with his English-born wife, Mary, took the throne.

The golden era in Amsterdam continued until 1700, when there was a decline in the fortunes of the city; the Dutch Republic did not have resources to fight the likes of the French and English armed forces, but Amsterdam did have money. They paid a great cost to keep the invaders away. In the meantime, the London and Hamburg maritimers finally got their act together and became strong competition on the seas, ending the near monopoly of the Dutch shipping routes. 

The Netherlands successfully remained neutral through the First World War, and by the 1920s was experiencing a new boom in its economy. In 1920, the Dutch airline KLM started the first commercial passenger airline service between Amsterdam and London. The 1930s brought economic depression and the 1940s brought war. Neutrality was attempted for the second time, but the Netherlands became an occupied nation. After the war came growth, with US aid provided by the Marshall Plan. The latter part of the 20th century saw cultural revolution and probably what we associate with Amsterdam today. Starting around 1962, Amsterdam became Europe’s “magic centre” thanks to relaxed attitudes to vice, with the eventual decriminalisation of marijuana use in 1976.

On a personal note, and as a relative stranger myself, it is hard to get across the ethos of Amsterdam to those who have never visited. It is a city that has an open mind and relaxed perspective. There is respect for diverse opinions, with an agree to disagree attitude and non-combative points of view. It is an incredible city to visit. There is so much to see culturally although it is quite sufficient to wander the streets, cycle the parks and be carried by boat through the canals.

If you were wondering about that little boy who saved the Netherlands, sadly he was a 19th century American invention and is unknown in the Netherlands. The mouse was a British invention and can be found on YouTube. I strongly recommend you stay away unless you wish to invite a mildly irritating tune into your head for the day.


Diana Stuart, Veramed








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Categories: Events Travel Across the Globe

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